Restoring the Civic Mission of Higher Education

As the school year begins anew in the midst of high unemployment and skyrocketing student debt, institutions of higher education are under increasing pressure to justify their worth and to demonstrate the economic value of the degrees they confer. For many, the dominant, if implicit, mantra seems to be “learn to earn.”

It is important that students graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. But it is even more critical that students graduate with the requisite expertise and abilities to be informed and engaged citizens of the American democracy. Unfortunately, in recent years, colleges have been shirking their civic duty. In the midst of a messy election season, this is the ideal time to have a serious conversation about how we can restore the civic mission to higher education.

Historically, colleges sought to mold our country’s future democratic leaders by integrating academic instruction with cultivating a sense of moral and civic responsibility for community and country. Indeed, most university mission statements still have a strong civic bent (Brown University aims to prepare students to “serve the community, the nation, and the world”). Remaining true to these civic missions until the turn of the 20th century, many universities incorporated civic and moral content into mandatory capstone courses that encouraged students to think critically about their role in our democracy.

This is rarely the case today. As academic specialization and culture warfare intensify, controversy-shy colleges have retreated from their civic mission. It sometimes seems colleges fall into two categories (sometimes on the same campus): intellectual oases, in which students explore important issues, but do not act upon them, or economic engines where the goals are human capital formation and churning out ever more profitable industrial patents.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these trends have paralleled the atrophying of our democracy. Americans exhibit historically high levels of distrust towards elected officials and their ability to solve entrenched public problems. At the same time, Americans know less about government (only 1/3 of Americans can name all three branches of government, and 1/3 can’t name any), and vote in fewer numbers; only 20 percent of 18-30 year olds voted in the 2010 midterms, comprising only 10 percent of the overall electorate. The U.S. nowranks 139th out of 172 democracies in voter participation.

Read more at Huffington Post

Comments

Polititainment

George Will to Colbert: Liberals don't want change

Conservative commentator and hapless Chicago Cubs fan George Will swung by "The Colbert Report" Tuesday to plug his new book, "A Nice Little Place on the North Side," but naturally, the conversation didn't stick to baseball.

Clay Aiken: voters 'might wonder' about candidacy

Former "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken concedes that voters "might wonder" about his candidacy for Congress for a new ad.

Los Angeles GOP #StandingWithSriracha

Forget #StandWithRand -- the GOP is now choosing to #StandWithSriracha.

WH responds to 'Deport Justin Bieber' petition

Despite the pleas of more than 270,000 Americans to deport Justin Bieber, the White House has chosen not to weigh in on the issue. However, the Obama administration did use a petition calling on the White House to revoke the pop artist's visa to plug President Barack Obama's plan for immigration reform.

Secret Service once threatened Mr. Met

Mr. Met sure has a lot of fans in New York. But the larger-than-life mascot definitely doesn't have one in the Secret Service, who threatened to shoot and kill him if he approached President Bill Clinton, according to a firsthand account.

White House

Donald Trump is really upset with the way Obama walks

President Barack Obama just can't seem to do anything right, especially in the eyes of real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Obama misses 67 percent of his shots playing basketball at Easter event

President Barack Obama went 1-for-3 shooting baskets at a White House Easter event Monday, prompting basketball scouts to question the leader of the free world's scoring ability ahead of this June's NBA Draft.

PETA is peeved with Michelle Obama and used little girls to tell her about it

First Lady Michelle Obama has earned the ire of three young girls. But they're not upset with her less-than-filling "Let's Move!" school lunches. Instead, these youngins are upset about the real eggs used in the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Jay Carney: “Never been a more transparent administration”

Despite consistent objections by journalists that the White House overly restricts press access, Press Secretary Jay Carney believes that there has "never been a more transparent administration."

Jay Carney: Toughest interview for Obama in 2012 was with Jon Stewart

Give comedian Jon Stewart a gold star sticker. The host of The Daily Show was President Barack Obama's toughest interviewer during the 2012 election cycle, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday.

Congress

Arkansas US Sen. John Boozman having surgery

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Boozman is undergoing surgery at an Arkansas hospital.

Republicans are winning the Twitters this year

Congrats, Congressional Republicans -- you're winning the Twitters so far in 2014!

Rep Black: GOP budget makes a path to a bright future

Our nation is $17.4 trillion in debt and out of control Washington spending has no end in sight. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that on our current trajectory we will return to $1 trillion annual budget deficits by the year 2022.

Cruz: Impeach Holder

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pulled no punches when criticizing Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday, as he called on Congress to impeach the Department of Justice head.

Pelosi: GOP not acting on immigration because of race

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pulled the race card when speaking about Republicans' inaction in passing comprehensive immigration reform and said "race has something to do" with the GOP not bringing such legislation to the House floor.